They were sitting in the back seat of an unmarked police car, and Sergeant Evans, who was also a part-time graduate student in philosophy, was inclined to be playful. He said,
"It's what I call the paradox of informing. In order to find out anything about Al's next robbery, you have to agree to participate. And you can't back out later. That would alarm him. So you become, not a law-abiding citizen who favors the police department with information, but a bank robber."
Evans' round face showed a perverse pleasure, as if he would like to transform all respectable citizens everywhere into bank robbers. Jethro Turner didn't look nearly as pleased as he replied,
"If the police get there at the right time, they can shoot Al as soon as he draws his gun."
"That won't work with this gentleman. We've been studying him. You won't know which bank it's going to be until you walk up to the front door."
"Then, once we've held up the bank, you'll be the only one who knows that I'm not a real bank robber."
"That's right. There's really no alternative to letting you go through with it. There'll be plenty of time to arrest Al later."
"But this is a man who believes in shooting the bank guard right at the beginning. Am I supposed to let him do it?"
"You'll have your thirty-eight. If Al points his gun at the guard, shoot him."
"What if Al's behind me?"
"Get off to the side a bit and keep an eye on him. He probably won't shoot anyone but the guard. Al is known. He doesn't kill without reason."
"What if someone tries to be a hero?"
"Then shoot Al. You can do it. I can assure you, the DA won't prosecute you for killing Al Markowitz in the middle of a bank robbery."
When Melissa heard the details, she was horrified and frightened. She finally said,
"There's only one thing to do. Refuse this so-called commission and get out of this business."
"I've already accepted it."
"You can change your mind, for heaven's sake."
"It's like any other line of work. You have to accept difficult assignments in order to progress and make money."
"It's not money that's motivating you. You're making it a matter of honor. But it can't really be. You're just betraying people who consider you their friend to the police. Surely there's no honor in that."
"It's a necessary job that someone has to do. It's just like the marines."
"You've got a totally twisted and perverted sense of honor. It doesn't even include loyalty."
"Yours is just as strange. No reputable psychologist does the things you do."
"But I'm honest and professional about it, and it fits into my therapy."
"I bet a lot of your clients pay for the other things and ignore the therapy."
"I make sure they don't. And besides, apart from that, I can be a lady of a rather traditional sort. At least, insofar as you allow me to be."
"I can be a gentleman and an artist when I'm not informing. Even when I am, I'm helping to eliminate the scum of the earth. These people are a lot worse than the Japanese soldiers I used to kill."
"It's just so squalid and low. I hate it!"
Jethro said nothing, and, after a pause, Melissa said,
"I'm sorry, Jets, I guess I just don't understand. Why are you really doing this?"
"Well, preparation is maximum."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm not getting stronger any more. I'm about to get weaker."
"I know you haven't been able to break your record for bench presses lately, but you may tomorrow."
"I don't think so."
"Anyhow, there's more to life than bench presses!"
"Sure. But other things are going the same way. Even my art work. It's inevitable. People decline with age. Particularly around forty."
"The crisis should come at the time of maximum strength and preparation, not after you've started to go downhill."
"It could well be this robbery."
"So you're looking for a crisis in which you can exercise your maximum strength. That's truly crazy!"
"I prefer not to enter a long decline ending in a meaningless death."
A little later, Jethro slipped out of the house for a meeting with Al, this time in Clyde's luncheonette.
Al was sitting at the counter, one of only three customers. The owner, Clyde, had been talking with the other two at the end of the counter, and he came slowly down to take Jethro's order of a coke. Al smiled at Clyde in a disquieting way, and Clyde retreated quickly. Al then turned the same smile on Jethro as he showed him a little sketch he had made. It depicted a bank lobby with the position of the guard marked with a capital 'G'. Al said,
"Look well because you don't get to keep this."
"Where is it?"
The sketch also showed Jethro's position, along with that of a third man who would be with them. When they drew their guns and announced the hold-up, Jethro would be in front of Al and to his left, with the guard behind Jethro and in front of Al. Jethro complained,
"I'll be drawing with my back to the guard."
"I'll attend to the guard."
When Jethro said nothing, Al smiled and added,
"You have to trust me even though I don't trust you. Are you on?"
"Good. You've got your piece?"
"Meet here, same time, on Tuesday. I'll give you the date then."
Despite their earlier disagreement, Melissa was glad when Jethro returned promptly. They were having a small dinner party, and it would have been hard to explain his absence.
The three guests were a champion wrestler who was also an artist and a private detective, a middle-aged Englishman who taught at the Art Academy, and the latter's seventeen- year-old mistress. It was the third who arrived first, while Jethro was still in the shower.
Since Shannon lived in the building, and was, in fact, Bobby's sister, it wasn't surprising that she was prompt. Beautiful and strange, many hostesses would have been uncomfortable with her. But, of course, Melissa knew the family.
Where Bobby didn't understand a good deal of what went on around him, Shannon, with her wonderful sloe eyes and her unremittingly obscene speech, seemed to understand everything. It had occurred to Melissa that, if one's mother is a prostitute of the lowest class, it might be better to be a little dim, like Bobby, than to be born knowing, like Shannon. At any rate, the latter's sulky contempt for other people, as evidenced by the words that passed between her pert and eminently kissable lips, was so encompassing that, whenever Melissa encountered some new evidence of hostility, she found it possible not to take it personally.
In the event, Shannon settled herself comfortably on the couch and asked Melissa if she would mind if she, Shannon, fucked Jethro on Sunday afternoons. When Melissa asked,
"Why not on Monday nights?",
Shannon smoothed her loose golden hair, and spoke softly in her long slow Tennessee accent,
"It's hearin the preacher that makes me want it."
Melissa had forgotten that Shannon's mother took the whole brood off to a store-front church on Sunday mornings. Those were the churches that served up a powerful mixture of modified Christianity, crazed superstition, and partly unconscious but nonetheless orgiastic sexual stimuli. Melissa responded sympathetically, but with a certain vagueness. Shannon was, she thought, just being Shannon.
The next guest to arrive was Miller Muggins, the wrestler. A medium-sized black man with dark skin, he was so modest and unassuming that it was hard to believe that, under his loose jacket, there was enormous force. He smiled at Shannon, just as he smiled at everyone, but Melissa suspected that he took her to be plain unadulterated bad news. Any reasonable person would have taken that view, and Miller was, above all, a reasonable person.
Jethro arrived in the room just as Reginald Templeton was coming up the stairs. Shannon, hearing his approach, managed to drape one long slender white arm over Jethro and the other over Miller, pulling them together. Templeton, a small man in a pin-striped suit with a rolled umbrella and a gift for his hostess under his arm, stepped briskly through the open door. He had the look of an explorer delightedly observing a new species, close enough to be confused with the human one, but lacking certain essentials. When Shannon undraped herself from the others and came to him, he encircled her waist with the arm holding the umbrella, and remarked,
"Frightfully good light you've got here, Jethro. I could paint Miller and Shannon, and make them look like brother and sister."
Since Templeton painted in the manner of the German expressionists, and often made his figures look rather like dandified insects, this remark wasn't as absurd as a glance at Miller and Shannon might have suggested. But, of course, nothing he ever did or said was entirely serious. The package which he handed to Melissa contained a bottle, and he explained,
"As I crossed the street below, two gentlemen were having at one another in a most extraordinary way. While they were so engaged, I slipped this out of the pocket of one of them."
It was a bottle of Dawn Strike, the cheap fortified wine that was favored on the streets. Jethro, looking closely at the cap, proclaimed it to be virginal. He said to Templeton,
"I'm surprised they didn't both turn on you and ram your umbrella up your patootie."
"No fear. I've discovered that, in America, I can get away with absolutely anything. It simplifies life so much."
Melissa supposed that one of the things he could get away with was Shannon. Catching his eye, she said,
"There must sometimes be complications, just the same."
Patting Shannon lightly on her beautifully crafted bottom, he replied conspiratorily to Melissa,
"The director of the academy occasionally makes difficulties when I take Shannon to receptions there. I've found, however, that Americans don't ordinarily follow through on threats. One simply carries on as before."
Shannon wiggled happily, demonstrating that she had no bra under her delicate blouse. Miller, himself taking Coca-Cola, passed the Dawn Strike to Jethro and proposed a toast to the queen.
At dinner, Shannon looked quite suspiciously at Melissa's pasta, but did condescend to eat a small helping. Everyone else ate a little too much, but, having had coffee in the living room, Melissa produced sketch pads for the evening's entertainment.
Jethro and Miller often wrestled at the Y. Miller always won, but Jethro was good enough to give him competition. They took their positions in the middle of the floor with the understanding that, as soon as they got into an interesting position, the others could call for them to stop.
Jethro started in the down position with Miller riding him, but they proceeded much more slowly than usual. Jethro got his left arm back around Miller's right knee. It looked as if he had the advantage, except that no one ever really had the advantage against Miller. During the moment that they strained against one another, both looking forward, Templeton called for a halt. Melissa agreed. It wasn't often that both faces were simultaneously visible, and there was a nice tension and symmetry of forces.
After some fifteen minutes, they compared drawings. Shannon produced something that looked psychotic. The others made approving murmurs, perhaps, Melissa suspected, confirming Shannon in her view that they were all idiots. Melissa got what she took to be a good balance, particularly between Miller's somewhat amused smile and Jethro's look of total ferocity.
Templeton exaggerated the size and lengths of the arms and minimized the faces and heads. There was always the insect look in his work, but these were particularly graceful and handsome insects, indeed ones that were well on their way toward evolving into a proto-human form.
It was next decided that Templeton and Shannon must wrestle while the others drew. Melissa caught her breath as Shannon dropped her skirt. Below her fairly clean white cotton underpants her long legs looked shockingly bare and provocative. The blouse came next, and Shannon, knowing that she was perfect, smiled at Melissa. Templeton, still in his suit, knelt as Jethro had done. He then asked Melissa to hand him his umbrella, explaining,
"I might contrive to use it to keep Shannon from doing certain sorts of things to me."
It was decided that Templeton would have to risk his fortunes without his umbrella, and he managed to make only a couple of incipient movements before Shannon pinned him with his shoulders on the floor and his legs up in the air. Jethro called for a stop, and the others circled around for the best perspective
It looked to Melissa as if Templeton might be in some pain with the back of his head jammed against the floor, but he was obviously taking seriously the model's responsibility to remain still.
After some ten minutes, Shannon bounced up and got back into her blouse. Templeton, happy to be released and smiling, looked at everyone's drawing of his predicament. Miller had a lovely sketch of Shannon, but Templeton appeared only as an unrecognizable lump on the floor. Jethro, aping Templeton's own style, represented Shannon as a great golden butterfly that had entrapped, and was devouring, a particularly dignified and gentlemanly cockroach. Shannon liked Miller's drawing, but made a rude noise when she saw Jethro's. Then, the white triangle of her panties showing beneath her blouse, she came over to see Melissa's drawing. To Melissa's surprise, Shannon seemed pleased, in fact so pleased that Melissa gave her the drawing. The girl, apparently with no intention of putting her skirt back on, placed the drawing carefully on a chair by the door.
They finished Templeton's bottle, and then a much better bottle that Jethro produced. They talked art as usual, and Shannon, a little left out, spent the rest of the evening whispering comments about the others to Melissa. Melissa managed both conversations simultaneously, keeping the girl more or less pacified. She even convinced Shannon to wear her skirt when the party broke up and she went off with Templeton, still carrying Melissa's drawing of her.
When they were left alone, Jethro and Melissa agreed that it had been a good party. Melissa didn't tell him that a large part of her attraction to him was that he made possible gatherings that couldn't conceivably have occurred in the social milieu from which she had come.